March 23, 2015

Struth! What to do with two million tonnes of tomatoes

THE HJ Heinz company uses 2,000,000 tonnes of tomatoes
annually in its sauces, baked beans and other products. (HJHeinzCo)

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of  travel, David Ellis says technologists at the HJ Heinz company say that no matter where in the world you travel, when held properly, and that's at a 45 degree angle, tomato sauce should flow from their bottles at a recommended  .045kph.

How they came to this figure, and more importantly why, we've no idea. But we do know that if you want it to flow faster, the trick is to repeatedly lightly tap the neck of the bottle with your knuckle where it has the number 57 – something the folk at Heinz say only around 11 per cent of customers appear to know about.

All this is part of being able to justifiably claim to be somewhat expert in the subject of tomato sauce: the company sells 650,000,000 bottles of the stuff (ketchup as the Americans call it) every year… and a further 11 billion single-serve sachets, which is the equivalent of 1.5 sachets for every person on earth.

And to do it, it's the world's biggest user of tomatoes, processing two million tonnes annually, and having its own nurseries in which it produces six billion seeds a year of a unique, disease-resistant and especially-textured tomato for distribution to contract growers for its sauces, baked beans and other products.

Australia's First Cookbook with recipe for 'Blow My Skull'

David Ellis

IT'S most unlikely you've ever heard of The English and Australian Cookery Book, and even more-unlikely that you'd know anything of its author, a self-styled Tasmanian "aristologist" named Edward Abbott.

But anyone with a passion for cooking should soon be hearing a lot more about Mr Abbott, because his was Australia's first-ever cookbook and it's just recently been re-printed – albeit 150 years after its debut appearance in 1864.

True to its title this amazing tome has plenty of recipes for 19th century English dishes from sausages to roast beef, pies to pancakes, puddings to jellies and custards to cream cakes, and for its Australian flavours suggestions on how best to roast an emu or a wombat, bake an echidna, cook kangaroo tail or black swan, turtle or wallaby, make a broth of boiled calf's heads, bake an ox tongue, and cook cow's heels.

And for the more stout-hearted, toss kangaroo brains in a batter of flour and water and fry 'em up in emu fat. Or put together a drop of colonial rocket-fuel that was a favoured drop of a Tasmanian Governor and comprised water infused with a good half-litre of ale, another of rum, a quarter litre of brandy, sugar and lime to taste – and was appropriately named Blow My Skull…

Edward Abbott's erudite, witty and fascinating book has some 1000 recipes spread through nearly 300 pages. The son of a Canadian-born army officer, he was born in Sydney Town in 1801, moved to Tasmania in 1818 when his father was appointed Deputy Judge-Advocate at Hobart Town, worked for a while as a clerk in his father's office, and in 1823 became a pastoralist on 445ha of land on the Derwent River.

He quickly rose in prominence becoming a Justice of the Peace, founder of a newspaper the Hobart Town Advertiser, was appointed a Police Magistrate in 1848, and became a Member of Parliament eight years later.

Considered somewhat eccentric – during a land dispute with the government he was fined for striking the Tasmanian Premier with an umbrella – he ultimately lost much of his wealth due, he said, "to the rascality of commission agents" when he speculated badly in wheat, flour and oats.

And it was after this that he wrote the officially titled The English and Australian Cookery Book, Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the 'Upper Ten Thousand.' For some reason he did not put his name to it, but instead showed the author as an "Australian Aristologist" – someone who makes a study of, and enjoys, fine dining.

Of 3000 copies sold, only a handful remain in libraries or private collections today, and have fetched up to $13,000 each at auction.

Last year two "culinary historians of Tasmania" as they call themselves, Bernard Lloyd and Paul County took the bold step of reproducing Mr Abbott's work 150 years after it was first printed – publishing it exactly as it had appeared in 1864, and packaging it with a "companion volume" detailing the fascinating life and times of Edward Abbott.

The cookbook alone is a must if you've any interest at all in matters culinary, for not only is it a fusion of traditionally English and colonial Australian dining, it has wonderful insights into the thinking of the time, including observations by Mr Abbott himself and such diverse gems by others as Dress and Manners At A Dinner Party, Why Animals to be Eaten Must Be Killed, A Bachelor's Dinner, Sportman's Food and even Cookery for the Destitute…

And while it also includes views on some of Australia's very first locally-made wines and beers, most importantly it reflects how our pioneers made use of what was around them at a time when food as they knew it from "back home," was in often scant supply.

Indeed one Tasmanian lady named Mary Allport, wrote in her family journal in 1831 how with just an echidna available for dinner one night, she cooked it by adapting a recipe for suckling pig, and on another occasion created a family meal of stuffed wallaby by tinkering with a Scottish recipe for stuffed hare…

The reproduction version of The English and Australian Cookery Book and its Companion Volume costs $75 from good bookstores, and the same online at with delivery included.



[] EXACT reproduction of Edward Abbott's circa 1864 The English and
   Australian Cookery Book – a must-have for those with any interest at all in matters
   culinary. (Tasfoodbooks)
[] CULINARY historians of Tasmania, Bernard Lloyd (left) and Paul County in a
   promotion for their reproduction of Edward Abbott's fascinating first-ever Australian
   cookbook. (Tasfoodbooks)
[] COLOUR plate from an original 1864 copy of The English and Australian
   Cookery Book held by the National Library of Australian – desserts of the day from
   Christmas pudding to jellies and pancakes. (National Library of Australia)
[] RECIPE for boiled mutton and turnips – note Edward Abbott's colourful
   observations about the meal, and the required mood and disposition of cook and
   diner. (National Library of Australia)
[] A PLATE by Penny Carey-Wells and Diane Perndt from the Companion Volume to
   the reproduction The English and Australian Cookery Book, depicting Edward
   Abbott composing his dedication to his book. (Tasfoodbooks)

March 19, 2015

Wild About Wildlife in BC

They peer down from their perches high up totem poles, creatures with the features of bears and whales, eagles and wolves, beavers and ravens. For eons, British Columbia’s Aboriginal people have shared a strong spiritual bond with the menagerie thriving in the surrounding forests and waters. These days, adventurists from all walks of life are also longing to connect with the wilderness and the natural cycle of life unfolding with every season.

In BC it’s easy to experience Mother Nature’s grand scheme and not just in the province’s 13.9 million hectares (34.35 million acres) of parks and protected areas. With 1,100 wildlife species thriving in some of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, Bighorn sheep, bears and moose can be seen from highways; dolphins, sea lions and whales from the decks of scheduled ferries.

With more fauna than any other province, critters are sure to be somewhere nearby, whether you’re camping with the bare essentials or lounging in luxury. You just need to decide where best to commune with your own inner wild thing.

A brown black bear cub near the Grizzly Bear Ranch in spring. Photo by Jim Lawrence.
(Jim is a professional wildlife photographer and a regular guest at the ranch.
To see more of his photos go to his website:


Few wildlife encounters are more exhilarating than watching grizzly bears lumbering along a shoreline or cubs frolicking on a beach. Mid-May through mid-June, in the hungry early days of summer, is the best time to check in on the 60 or so who call remote Khutzeymateen/K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Sanctuary home. The only access into Canada’s first grizzly protection zone northeast of Prince Rupert is via floatplane or boat operated by licensed outfitters privy to prime spying locations.

With more than half of Canada’s population of grizzlies — roughly 15,000 — as well as a quarter of the country’s black bears, BC is truly “bear central.” There’s even a unique creamy-white bruin native to a region within the Great Bear Rainforest, the world’s largest remaining temperate coastal rainforest, south of Khutzeymateen. The Kermode (or “Spirit”) bear is a genetic fluke, a startlingly white black bear that is BC’s official animal. The folks who best know the whereabouts of the approximately 400 elusive, mystical beasts are guides from the nearby First Nations village of Klemtu who enhance the Spirit bear search with traditional knowledge and tales.

Though the Great Bear Rainforest is a road-less wilderness twice the size of Belgium, two fly-in floating lodges — Knight Inlet and Great Bear — provide comfort in the heart of grizzly country. Day treks through lush rainforest follow “bear stomp” trails where muddy dens and day beds might be spotted; drift silently along estuaries, eavesdropping on mother bears and cubs munching fresh grass sedges while keeping an eye open for seals, bald eagles and water birds.

Other ways to get your share of bear viewing in BC include joining the crew aboard the Pacific Yellowfin, the tall ship Maple Leaf or one of Bluewater Adventures’ pampered wildlife-viewing cruises that delve deep into the rainforest. For a change of scenery, lavish outposts like the Discovery Islands’ Sonora Resort serve up five-star luxury that includes heli-sightseeing and gourmet cuisine along with your bears.

In BC’s Cariboo Chilcotin, adventure company ROAM recently launched a Bear-Camp — deluxe safari-style adventures including bear-peeping by canoe or kayak, or on foot. Though bears and tents might not sound like an ideal proposition, ROAM’s six waterfront suites are perched atop safe grizzly-viewing platforms overlooking Chilko Lake and the headwaters of the Chilko River, and include access to exquisite dining, daily yoga classes and an in-house massage therapist who makes tent calls. Looking to tweak your wildlife photography skills? Sign up for historic Tweedsmuir Park Lodge’s Wildlife and Grizzly Bear Photography Workshops in a 1929 wilderness lodge with a backdrop of the Bella Coola Valley’s glaciers and rugged peaks on 24 hectares (60 acres) of private land within BC’s biggest provincial park.

Bear-sighting expeditions need not be costly: Jamie’s Whaling Station in Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, offers two- to three-hour black bear tours for as little as $89, and you can spot grizzlies on full-day guided tours out of Campbell River or Telegraph Cove for about $300 from spring through October.

Tip: autumn is one of the most reliable and dramatic seasons to experience bears. Splashing through river shallows teeming with migrating salmon, bears swat fish from the water with a flick of their formidable paws almost as fast as they can devour them, teeth sinking into their feast with a satisfying crunch. Meanwhile, high up in mossy trees, bald eagles patiently wait their turn to swoop down and clean up the leftovers.


Few events in nature showcase the cycle of life more graphically than the annual migration of all five wild Pacific salmon species, September through November. It’s raw and moving to witness countless creatures live out their last days battling upstream to spawn in the same streams they were born, running a gauntlet of hungry bears and birdlife. Added bonus: salmon runs can even be experienced alongside cities at North Vancouver’s Capilano Salmon Hatchery or Goldstream Park outside Victoria.

Every four years a spectacular super migration takes place with millions of crimson-coloured sockeye salmon turning an 11-kilometre (seven-mile) stretch of the Adams River northeast of Kamloops red within protected Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. The next “dominant” run peaks in October 2014 and it’s being celebrated — as it always is — with a month-long Salute to the Sockeye festival.

Want to see the world from a salmon’s perspective? Head to Destiny River Adventures in Campbell River or Bella Coola’s Kynoch Adventures, slip into a wetsuit and submerge within the upstream-swimming mass during a memorable snorkelling with salmon experience in summer and fall.


Set in the path of the Pacific Flyway — a major north-south migratory bird highway between Alaska and Patagonia — British Columbia’s geography provides year-round opportunities to bust out the cameras, particularly when numbers peak during spring and fall migrations.

To welcome 250 species of feathered friends, including great grey owls and colourful western tanagers, back to the Columbia River Basin in early May, the community of Invermere holds a week-long Wings Over the Rockies Festival complete with guided nature walks, canoe paddles, wildlife photography workshops and art exhibits for lovers of all things avian.

Grab binoculars and lace up your hiking boots anywhere in the province to see hundreds of two-winged species. The best way to view? Let local naturalists and savvy local birders lead the way. In central BC’s Cariboo Mountains, for example, Ecotours-BC knows how best to spot exotics that include calliope hummingbirds, three-toed woodpeckers and sandhill cranes. Early mornings and dusk are prime time to join Great Horned Owl Eco-Tours in the South Okanagan for a hush-hush prowl through a mosaic of marshes, pastures and Canada’s only patch of true desert in search of yellow-breasted chats, bobolinks and Williamson’s sapsuckers. And November is a special month just south of Vancouver in Delta’s George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, one of Canada’s top birdwatching sites, when the sky and landscape turn white with 30,000 to 80,000 lesser snow geese arriving from Siberia to spend the winter in BC.

Another winged wonder takes place mid-November through mid-February in Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria and at Brackendale, south of Whistler. Drawn by the rushing buffet that is the annual salmon run, huge raptors perch like white-topped candles in riverside trees or scour riverbanks, gorging on fish. Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park boasts record-breaking numbers — from 650 to 1,000 birds can be spotted on a single January day from the Squamish River dyke trail or on a Cheakamus River raft float. A bonus: bears also frequent the yearly banquet.


Each year in March, an astonishing 20,000 Pacific grey whales appear off the west coast of Vancouver Island on the longest migration of any mammal, travelling approximately 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to summer feeding grounds off Eastern Russia. And there to greet them midway are Tofino and Ucluelet residents who throw a nine-day celebration, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, rocking Vancouver Island’s west coast with music, art shows, chowder competitions and interpretive rainforest walks.

The annual fest is just one opportunity to view these mighty creatures that thrive throughout the year, with peak viewing season — May through October — promising an armada of zooming Zodiacs, comfortable cruisers with viewing decks, historic sailboats and flotillas of kayaks that set off from major cities and villages along the entire coastline from Victoria to Prince Rupert. Everyone’s quest is to cross paths with humpback, minke, Orca and grey whales with sightings of sea lions, seals, Pacific white-sided dolphins, herons and golden eagles the icing on the day’s cake.

Humpbacks fly clear out of the water, landing with whale-sized splashes; dozens of Orcas send misty fountains into the crisp morning air, and you can feel nature’s rhythm as pods of porpoises skim the surface in unison — it’s a wildlife waterpark out there.

Resident Orcas, or “killer whales,” live in BC waters year-round and can be seen on trips out of Victoria and Steveston, near Vancouver’s airport. A prime habitat is Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago off Vancouver Island's northeast coast, where roughly 250 Orcas reside in the summer. There they dine on salmon, socialize and — unique among Orcas — rub their bodies on the area’s smooth pebble beaches. Watch them from late spring through early fall from boats or kayaks out of Port McNeill, Alert Bay or Telegraph Cove, a historic fishing village on stilts at the ocean's edge with a Whale Interpretive Centre featuring sea-life skeletons.

Moose and Bison and Wolves — Oh My!

So many creatures; so little time — the roll call of wildlife in BC seems endless and they’re everywhere. From June to October, simply driving the Alaska Highway through the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, dubbed the “Serengeti of the North,” can be a wildlife safari experience: Stone’s sheep hang out at mineral licks, bears and mule deer graze roadside meadows, herds of up to 50 bison are not uncommon, and summer through fall is the time to hit the brakes for moose and woodland caribou sightings. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a wolf.

If quiet calm is what you seek, take a cross-country ski glide through Wells Gray Provincial Park in the Thompson Okanagan region where, fingers crossed, you’ll come across moose, their tracks evident along the trail. Should you wish to pick up the pace, opt instead for a River Safari, and see how many creatures you can add to your photo library as you travel along scenic Mud River and Mud Lake, backed by rushing waterfalls and the peaks of the Monashee Mountains. With bears, moose, eagles and ospreys spotted along the way, it’s an on-the-water journey that happily embraces British Columbia’s wild side.

For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, visit

Story by Margo Pfeiff

Switzerland’s Matterhorn Celebrates 150 Years

Switzerland Tourism has announced that travellers to Zermatt in July this year will be in for a treat as celebrations for the Matterhorn's 150 years since the first ascent on 14 July 1865 will be in full swing with a multitude of activities taking place throughout July and August.

Director or Switzerland Tourism, Mark Wettstein, says Zermatt has lined up a series of highly enjoyable events to celebrate the occasion, including an the open-air theatre, possibly meeting Queen Elizabeth, village tours, hikes and the Zermatt Folklore Festival where they can get in and amongst the 1,200 participants from around the country dressed in folklore costumes.

To kick off the celebration, Zermatt's first open-air theatre at 2,600m above sea level on the Gornergrat will see 40 performers artistically deliver the "The Matterhorn Story". Documenting the dramatic and triumphant, yet tragic first ascent of the pyramidal summit, the theatre performance guarantees to take audiences on a gripping emotional roller coaster. It premiers on 9 July and concludes on 29 August.

During the jubilee week of 10-18 July, other events that will keep visitors occupied and entertained include the illuminating of the Matterhorn, a range of alpine excursions and the celebration of Italy Day where alpinists from Italy, France, the UK and Switzerland join famous alpinists such as Hervé Barmasse in Valtournenche in Italy to commemorate the Matterhorn.

To top it off, the much-anticipated celebration may even be graced with the presence of her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth of England, along with other international guests of honor during the Gala event.

According to Mark, more than 13,000 Australians visit Zermatt each year; and while most visits peak during winter for skiing and snowboarding, more and more Aussies are enjoying the region during the warmer months as well.

March 16, 2015

Struth! Pack-a-pet new meaning for dog in a suitcase


IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of  travel, David Ellis says security officers puzzled at the shape of an item in a woman's suitcase being screened before she flew out of New York's LaGuardia airport earlier this month, were surprised to open the case and find a tiny 7-year old and very much alive Chihuahua staring back at them.


They tracked the case's owner to an aircraft boarding lounge, and after getting over her initial shock she said that the pint-size pooch, that was so small it stood on a security officer's open palm, must have slipped into her bag and buried itself amongst her clothes while she was packing for a trip to Los Angeles.


Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers allowed the lady to go on her flight, while her husband came to collect and take their pet home – where it doubtless found itself in the Dog House.


FOOTNOTE: Plenty of other animals have been sprung after going aboard passenger planes without being declared, including in China a couple of years ago a tiny pet turtle that a male passenger said he couldn't bear to be separated from, and had tried to smuggle aboard a flight from Guangzhou to Beijing – hidden inside a KFC Chicken Burger.


PHOTO CAPTION: FOR the Dog House: this tiny Chihuahua stowed away in its owner's suitcase (also pictured) for a flight from New York to Los Angeles, but was noticed on-screen by eagle-eyed security officers. (Note how the pint-size pooch is so small, it fits on the palm of one of the security men.) Pic: USTSA


Meteora Monasteries of Greece


David Ellis

WHEN a scattering of nomadic 9th century Greek monks, who lived out their lives in solitude in remote caves 350km north-west of Athens, found themselves facing growing threats from marauding Turkish invaders, they decided that their safety could, in fact, be in numbers.

So they moved to the base of one of numerous strange sandstone pinnacles that reached 500 metres or more above the surrounding Plain of Thessaly, and while continuing their individual lives of solitude within caves there, came together on Sundays and major important religious dates to jointly worship and pray.

And ultimately they built a small chapel among the rocks for these gatherings, but when that too was plundered and many of its precious art works the monks had created were stolen, the monks started climbing higher into the fissures of their pinnacles until in the 11th century they had reached the tops of some twenty or more.

There they used an elaborate system of retractable ladders and baskets on the ends of long ropes to haul building materials and other supplies, and even themselves and hired workers and pilgrims up to their retreats, and to spend the next 300 years constructing individual monasteries overlooking the surrounding plain.

By the 14th century there were some twenty of these extraordinary places of worship that for seven centuries until the 1920s could be reached only by those ladders, or the baskets that swung so perilously off relays of ropes to the ground.

(It's recorded in one monastery journal that when a nervous pilgrim who'd been basketted up the pillar asked the receiving monk "Do you ever replace the rope?" he got the cheerful reply: "Of course – whenever the Lord lets it break.")

Modern-day scholars say that these Meteora Monasteries as they are known, Meteora meaning literally "suspended in the air," were not only important religious centres but ultimately academic and artistic ones as well – having been places of refuge at times of crisis for philosophers, painters, poets and deep thinkers, and who were credited with having saved the Hellenic culture and traditions.

And in their later years Meteora also attracted a small community of nuns of the Eastern Orthodox Church who built a convent on one of the peaks alongside the Church's long-time monks, but today there are just five monasteries and that convent remaining, with none having more than a dozen full-time occupants.

Just how the rare sandstone pinnacles that rise out of the Plain of Thessaly were formed is uncertain, but a major theory is that the Plain was once covered by an inland sea, and when this receded when the seabed rose, this action and subsequent weather conditions eroded the soft, elevated sandstone seabed leaving only the harder cores standing.

The monasteries today are major, if remote, tourist attractions described as amongst the most spectacular of places to visit in Greece. And although they were attacked during WWII when Germany suspected they were concealing insurgents, and many of their art treasures were pilfered by Nazi forces, they still contain hundreds of priceless items reflecting the lives of their earlier occupants.

These include post-Byzantine murals considered amongst the most beautiful in Greece, frescos including one by Theophanes that depicts in gruesome detail the persecution of Christians by the Romans, intricately carved wooden crosses, embroidered funeral orations, icons by some of Europe's most-famed iconographers, and other eclisiastical treasures.

One also contains shelves of skulls of former monks, while another became the richest after the Serbian Emperor, Symeon Uron gave all his wealth to the monastery to become an impoverished monk there.

And in more recent times yet another, Agia Triada also known as the Holy Trinity Monastery, was used for scenes in the James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only.

Thankfully the monasteries can be reached more easily today, with a bridge from an adjoining plateau reaching to one, and with bridges, ropeways, roads and other links from there to most of the other five – although one still requires a climb of a-near 150 steps cut into the sandstone.

Daily train services link Athens with the town of Kalambaka from where the monasteries can be reached by foot, or short cab ride. Two of the monasteries are open daily, while the others are closed at least one day a week.



[] HOW they did it all those centuries ago almost defies belief. (WikiMedia)   
[] TODAY a road leads to this rock-top monastery. (WallpaperHD)
[] HANGING in there a 20th century adventurer is roped up to a monastery in a basket… the rope is only replaced "whenever the Lord lets it break." (Fred Boissonnas)
[] NOT for the feint-hearted: some of the monasteries are still connected to this day by ropeway baskets like this one dubbed "The PopeMobile." (Greek Specialist Tours)
[] PRICELESS wall art like this, possibly painted by Theophanes, still adorn some of the monasteries today. (
[] SOME of the monasteries former occupants are displayed on these shelves in one of the monasteries today. (Andrew Baldwin SLATE)
[] CLOSE up of the Agio Triadas Monastery, also known as the Holy Trinity Monastery. (Wikipedia)

March 11, 2015

Struth! Bunker down in this Cold War hideout

IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of the traveller, David Ellis says it's no mistake – the British government did put up this road sign showing the way to its Secret Nuclear Bunker.

But not until 1992, some 40 years after the bunker was buried into Kelvedon Hatch in Essex in the 1950s at the start of the Cold War era.

Initially an RAF Fighter Command control and command centre, it was later converted to one of 17 similar nuclear-bomb-proof "Regional Seats of Government" across England in which up to 600 senior civil and military personnel could live and work in the event of potential enemy attack on Britain. Each had sufficient facilities and supplies to see those inside able to run the country and all three defence forces without need to leave their bunkers for up to three months

Some 38m underground (125ft) the 3-storey Kelvedon Hatch Bunker was accessed through an innocuous-looking suburban-style bungalow directly above it.

And located within the bunker were electrical generators, an air-conditioning plant, a vast military communications system, mini-hospital, a water-supply with its own deep bore, a sewage treatment station, canteens, accommodation… and a complete BBC broadcast studio and adjacent transmission tower through which the Prime Minister, who could be safely housed in the bunker, could broadcast information and messages of encouragement to the populace.

The bunker was decommissioned in 1992 and is today a museum with tours of its original facilities and equipment. It's also used regularly in films and TV series.

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